When I was invited to speak at the healthcare sessions during the ICCA conference in Buenos Aires, I could already sense a certain tension during the briefing with my fellow speakers the evening before.
Ethics, regulations, compliance, deontology, anti-bribery legislation...weighty words were hanging in the air.
"The pharmaceutical industry isn't what it used to be," is a phrase I hear bandied about a great deal. Budgets have been halved, everything has to be cheaper in the service of perception, and some people even think that ethical events management equals bad hotels, horrendous restaurants and 'made-in-a-cheap-country welcome gifts'. Or maybe not: welcome gifts are no longer allowed. Even a pen worth EUR 0.21 (including VAT) is 'non-compliant'.
'Good,' I reply, 'Good that it isn't like it used to be', because it wasn't sustainable. I still shudder every time I hear the word 'excursion'.
I find it healthy and a testimony to long-term thinking that, as a meeting industry, we're wrestling our way through this intense period. More than that, we should be relieved the government still allows the pharmaceutical industry to invite its stakeholders, doctors and pharmacists, to meetings and conferences. In other words, it's us as an industry that isn't coming up with the right answers; we're too stuck in the circle of chasing our own 'meetings tail'. And no, we don't sell hotels, flights, meeting rooms or projectors...these are just the negotiable resources. We need to sell the solutions that the client is looking for.
One of my first slides in Buenos Aires was a photo of a screaming baby. On it was the text, 'Stop crying like a little baby, think, and do something.'
And yes, I do think we need to stop whinging on and on. But above all I think it's up to us, the meeting industry, to come up with solutions together with the pharmaceutical industry.
The demand for education is higher than ever, the abundance of medical information, new studies, breakthrough articles...means that conferences, seminars and smaller meetings can more than ever offer an answer to support doctors and pharmacists, and provide information in the jungle of scientific articles out there.
The future for us in the healthcare industry lies where it should be: in the professionally organised transfer of knowledge. The distribution of pure, objective science through meetings, conferences or even webinars.
'Don't fight against compliance, embrace it,' was my last quote during the final debate in Argentina. After which we were all invited to a spectacular dinner with an equally spectacular tango show. No one is going to stop us from letting our hair down every once in a while.
Until next month.
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